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Cambodia’s Traditional Apsara Dance

Countries & Stories
Cambodia’s Traditional Apsara Dance

Amasia | June 5, 2020

Cambodia’s Traditional Apsara Dance

No visit to the mysterious kingdom of Cambodia is complete without watching the renowned magic Apsara dance, traditional dance of Khmer people. The Apsara dance is famous because of not only its beauty but also its invisible enchant and magical appeal.

Apsara Dance is a classical style Khmer dance named for the “heavenly dance”, dating back to the Angkorian era. It is better described as ‘dance-drama’ in that the dances are not merely dance but are also meant to convey a story or message. Carvings of Apsara dancers can be found at many bas reliefs in many ancient Angkor temples.

What does Apsara means

In Khmer belief, Apsara is the goddess of love and dance. You’ll see this image very often being carved on the walls of Khmer constructions such as Angkor Wat. During the Angkorian era, Apsara dance used to be performed at palace for special royal events. Evidence of this elegant art form can be easily found in the walls of ancient temples across this country.


Originated from Hinduism, this passionate dance is performed by Apsara fairies, who dance to entertain powerful Gods. They are incredibly gorgeous with gentle gestures, elegant behaviors and able to sing and dance beautifully. They are also special maids of Indra, the lord of all gods, representing wars, storms and wind.

Apsara dance used to be performed for royal family and imperial people to entertain. Not until 2000, when the massive Cambodian tourism started to open, has Apsara been popularized in travel destinations for visitors to enjoy The Traditional Khmer Art & Culture. This attractive dance was soon to be realized as a hidden treasure of Cambodia when it was recognized as World’s Intangible culture heritage in 2003 by UNESCO.


A classic Apsara dance is often performed by a group of attractive dancers with one skillful and outstanding leader. They perform gently, leisurely and comfortably as if they were just in the middle of wandering and playing around their own royal garden, which is lightened by their exceptional beauty. The typical dance movement of Apsara dance is easily to be distinguished from any dances in the world by its unique and leisure pace.

The gesture, the curve of the arm and the dancer’s body recreate the epic stories carved on the ancient temples’ walls. The main traits of the dance are the hand gestures, and more than 1,500 exist. Each movement of the fingers has its own distinct meaning, from worshiping the spirits of nature by depicting a flower in bloom to referencing one of the hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu legends. The hand movements is the most noticeable but their facial expressions are very attractive as well. Without a single word, the stories are being told through those fantastic movements and they come directly to the audience’s hearts.


Through dance, Cambodian want to speak out their wish for a peaceful, prosperity life and praise natural beauty of the country, the Hallow and the ancients’ merit. Besides, Apsara also talks about the touching story of birth, disease, old age, death … four life stages which everyone have to go through. Dances helps the next generation understand, contemplate and preserve the cultural values and country’s tremendous spirit.

How Cambodian to maintain and develop traditional dance

Each year, thanks to the Royal’s sponsorship, Apsara dancers can tour everywhere. To maintain and develop traditional dance, art groups regularly come to many local schools to recruit little girls, especially orphaned or poor girls who are learning dance. Children from 8 to 9 years old who are learnt and exercised dance in schools, palaces with a lot of attractive postures, especially dancing with exotic flexible hands. Their fingers can fold to near the wrist, dancer’s foot can kick high and knee can squeeze behind the back. Every afternoon, the girls come out dancing, playing in temples, in front of Apsara reliefs which attract many visitors to admire.


Currently, apart from serving in royal, there are about 300 Apsara dancers performing in hotels, motels and Chatomuk theatre near the Imperial palace with with lively music and vibrant, graceful costumes.

There are dance festivals held at temples but the majority of tourists to Siem Reap to attend the concert along with dinner at local restaurants. Dinner usually starts at 18h or 19h and dance performance begins at 19h30 or 20h, including 4-5 dances in about 45 to 60 minutes.
Some places offer standing-buffet with Khmer and international dishes, another ones serve Khmer dinner. Most restaurants’ prices are from 15 to 30 USD a person (include buffet and watching performance). Some restaurants do not charge for watching performance to attract tourists to dine. To own the best seat, you should call in advance for reservation, especially in peak season.

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